In my last post I imagined a world in which large data-driven platforms like Amazon, Google, Spotify, and Uber are compelled to share machine-readable copies of data to their users. There are literally scores, if not hundreds of wrinkles to iron out around how such a system would work, and in a future post I hope to dig into some of those questions. But for now, come with me on a journey into the future, where the wrinkles have been ironed out, and a new marketplace of personally-driven information is flourishing. We’ll return to one of the primary examples I sketched out in the aforementioned post: A battle for the allegiance – and pocketbook – of one online shopper, in this case, my wife Michelle.
It’s a crisp winter mid morning in Manhattan when the doorbell rings. Michelle looks up from her laptop, wondering who it might be. She’s not expecting any deliveries from Amazon, usually the source of such interruptions. She glances at her phone, and the Ring app (an Amazon service, naturally) shows a well dressed, smiling young woman at the door. She’s holding what looks like an elegantly wrapped gift in her hands. Now that’s unusual! Michelle checks the date – no anniversaries, no birthdays, no special occasions – so what gives?
Walmart has long been a target for critics on the left who lament the “Walmart effect” — the way the superstore chain tended to strangle small local merchants and lower wages and benefits as it has conquered the U.S. retail marketplace. Now there’s a new kind of Walmart effect on the horizon.
In 2015 Walmart found that its stores were a mess, its shelves were often empty, and its customers were unhappy. The retail giant took the shocking step of raising wages for its front-line workers, investing in their training, and opening paths for them to advance (The New York Times).
E-commerce turbo-boost. It’s official — the world’s largest retailer is going to buy e-commerce startup Jet.com for $3 billion (Recode). A move against the Amazon threat, as most media reports argue? Sure — but more importantly, a broader acknowledgment that even the biggest and most efficient company today can’t figure out the future by itself. It’s hard to look around corners when you own the whole street. Walmart rose to its retail dominance by inventing new distribution and pricing systems, but like most industry leaders, it came to face the innovator’s dilemma. Jet offers Walmart some novel algorithmic low-pricing techniques, as well as some startup-speed talent. But history suggests it might take more than an acquisition for Walmart to stay on top. Meanwhile, Jet’s team took only two years to grow to triple-unicorn value by reliably delivering low prices online. (The Walmart-Jet deal is exactly the kind of BigCo-NewCo cross-fertilization that the NewCo Shift Forum event next February is all about.)
Economy stuck in low-grow land. Forget market swings and mega-deals for a second and zoom out to fundamentals: What you see is a new economic normal of low inflation, low unemployment, low interest rates — and low growth. How’d that happen (New York Times)? The gap between long-term U.S. growth of 2 percent (the late 20th-century average) and the 1 percent typical since 2000 explains a lot of today’s news, including the stubborn persistence of inequality and the rise of populist anger. Is our economy “fundamentally broken”? Or did recent generations just experience a one-time boom, and then overestimate how cool new tech would keep it going? Of course, we could be measuring “growth” all wrong (see: GDP). Or we could be in for a rough century. No one’s suggesting a quick fix, but a big spend on infrastructure looks promising to leaders across the political spectrum.
How did Walmart build an internet startup inside the world’s largest retailer, undertaking one of the largest digital transformations in the history of business? It took talent, data and a huge commitment to Silicon Valley. Hosted at Walmart’s Global eCommerce office in Sunnyvale, California, this concise conversation between Walmart’s Brian Monahanand NewCo’s contributing editor Jonathan Weber reveals Walmart’s unique NewCo story.